So you think you've the personality to teach?

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Come back with me to my childhood, to Dundee's old Arcade, where you could buy anything from a chicken roasted on a spit to shiny scraps of winged angels with rouged cheeks, and where spending a penny meant a four-minute ride on Champion the Wonder Horse, or pressing your palm against tickly metal spikes so that the machine could issue you with a little square of cardboard which revealed your Personality.

That's probably where my obsession with finding out just what kind of person I am all began. Now let me bring you up to the present, to this week, when I began my TQFE (Teaching Qualification in Further Education) along with fellow lecturers with clocking-on cards that registered anything from 10 to 25 years' experience. So you think you can teach . . . The first session was designed to put a question mark at the end of that sentence.

What kind of learning techniques do I favour - and do I tend to push these on my classes? What kind of person was I? There were pages of questions to help me find out. A little more sophisticated than the tickly metal spikes of the Arcade, the process invited us to consider our learning styles and in the process discover our labels.

I, it seems, am an activist and pragmatist in equal measure. Apparently the activist in me will dash in where angels, rouged cheeks or no, fear to tread, while the pragmatist in me hates beating around the bush and is always brimming with new ideas. Almost everyone else in my group is a reflector who looks before they leap and always mulls things over. So obviously at our first meeting I'm the one with no textbook but lots of enthusiasm and they're the ones with neat ringbinders, colour-coded dividers and study schedules.

I decide that being an activist-pragmatist is probably a Good Thing. Well, it seems a bit wild and unpredictable. The trouble is it's simply not fashionable these days. Wild and unpredictable is ut, and in are the buzz words reflect, analyse, evaluate, compare, with no leaping or bush-beating in sight. It causes no end of problems.

I teach my class assertiveness and what happens? They inform me assertively that they understand it's an assessment but they don't feel happy about doing the role play planned. However, they would be happy to discuss it in a theoretical way. Show you understand, say how you feel and suggest a suitable compromise. Game set and match.

And it's not just with classes that problems arise. My colleague and I sit at our desks, having a heart to heart, eating lunchtime sandwiches. I dab at my mouth. She does the same and then laughs. "I'm mirroring, did you see that?" and self-consciousness settles over her like a cloak.

I think we should ban reflection and reflectors. Like blondes, I think activist-pragmatists have more fun. I mean, name a famous reflector who had a fun life. Hamlet was a reflector and look what happened to him. He spent absolutely ages pondering whether to be or not to be. No one could help him evaluate the kind of person he was, or teach him how to stop beating about the bush and take the big leap. It was as if, as Iain Crichton Smith's Hamlet discovered, he was trapped in a circus hall of mirrors where "images bounce madly against reason as, in a spoon, wide pictures fat and jolly". Here reason and image are not so much set in opposition as in continual process of reflection and distortion. Discuss this in your groups.

My first assessment for TQFE awaits me and invites me to reflect on and to justify aspects of my teaching practice. For an activist-pragmatist it might prove difficult. Only I'm not an activist-pragmatist at all. It would be nice to think I was, but along with the rest of my group I can do a pretty good Hamlet when I choose.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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